April Wilmot is speaking for the first time on SBS Insight tonight about the night her ex-boyfriend set her mother’s house on fire with her family inside.
April Wilmot is speaking for the first time on SBS Insight tonight about the night her ex-boyfriend set her mother’s house on fire with her family inside.

‘My dressing gown was engulfed in flames’

April Wilmot's family had a plan in place.

They suspected her ex-boyfriend Neil de Graaf might do something violent and Ms Wilmot felt she was "just waiting to be that girl on the news".

"I knew that it would come," the domestic violence survivor tells SBS Insight tonight.

It was that plan that saved the 23-year-old when the attack eventually occurred.

"We had planned to go to the bathroom, when this event happened," she says, breaking her silence for the first time since the terrifying ordeal in November 2016.

"We didn't know when it was going to be, but we knew that this day would come."

 

Ms Wilmot is speaking out for the first time.
Ms Wilmot is speaking out for the first time.

 

She’s undergone four years of therapy after the attack.
She’s undergone four years of therapy after the attack.

De Graaf rammed his BMW into Ms Wilmot's mother's home in Ipswich, west of Brisbane, before carrying two jerry cans of fuel and a gas bottle into the two-storey property and setting the house on fire with the family inside.

Ms Wilmot, her mother, brother Shannon, 18, and his girlfriend Casey, 18, barricaded themselves inside an upstairs bathroom.

"As soon as I escaped the bathroom my dressing gown just immediately engulfed in flames and the whole bedroom, all the drapes, the mattress … everything was in flames," Ms Wilmot recalls.

De Graaf had set himself on fire and later died in hospital.

It's taken four years of intensive therapy for Ms Wilmot to feel ready to talk about that night and the relationship that left her traumatised for life.

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What was left of the Ipswich home.
What was left of the Ipswich home.

 

Her family barricaded themselves in the bathroom before escaping.
Her family barricaded themselves in the bathroom before escaping.

"It's fair to say it was quite a volatile relationship … it was quite obvious to me not long after dating him that there were a few disturbing behaviours that weren't quite rational, so it was never a healthy relationship, even from the very early stages," she says.

"It wasn't a relationship where you say a few harsh words and you give each other a bit of space and connect back together.

"It was always a mission that he was on to destroy everything and anything in my life. So, it did get to the point where I realised that I was way in over my head.

"But by the time that I realised that, he had said quite graphic, explicit threats against my life and my family's life."

Ms Wilmot says the majority of the relationship was her just trying to "delay and delay and delay" what she feared was inevitable.

"It was quite an unhealthy, unhappy time in my life where I was just, just waiting to be that girl on the news," she says.

 

Ms Wilmot looking at the damage.
Ms Wilmot looking at the damage.

 

She says the trauma will last for her lifetime.
She says the trauma will last for her lifetime.

Ms Wilmot had broken up with De Graaf a couple of weeks before that night.

"The communication had been quite sparse, but I had spoken to him on the phone a couple of minutes before (he started the fire)," she says.

"I could tell he was driving and he said to me, 'Don't worry, I have another plan anyway. I'm really calm'.

"So I thought, oh he's just going to contact more friends and family or my boss again … the sort of thing I had already been dealing with for quite some time.

"My mother had just come home with a pizza so I went upstairs in my dressing gown and we sat down and we heard this almighty bang …. It sounded like the whole front of our house had fallen into a sinkhole, it was the most horrendously loud noise."

Four years on, Ms Wilmot says her most overwhelming feeling is just incredible sadness.

"It was a very sad event that affected a lot of people in a lot of different ways," she says.

"It's taken such a long time to be able to talk about this … I think it's always really great when people go through a traumatic event, when they can bring awareness and really add to the community in some kind of way.

"I was such a shell of a person for a long time that I had to internalise my energy … I think its so important for domestic violence for women and men, and I'd like to contribute to that with my story.

"The trauma has been enough to last me 50 lifetimes."

You can hear more from Ms Wilmot and others on cheating death tonight on SBS Insight at 8.30pm

 

 

Originally published as 'My dressing gown was engulfed in flames'